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Security

MIT researchers stop hackers

Your IoT security worries just might fade away.

computer hacker

MIT's new wireless transmitter may make hacking more of a challenge.

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Researchers at MIT have created a new wireless transmitter that frequency hops an individual 1 or 0 bit of a data packet every microsecond.

That's "fast enough to thwart even the quickest hackers," MIT said in a statement.

Frequency hopping isn't new. The actress Hedy Lamarr is credited with inventing the technology that became the forerunner of Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and GPS. But where frequency hopping traditionally sends data packets containing thousands of individual bits on a random, unique radio frequency, MIT's transmitter can send packets comprising a single bit.

But that's not all. Researchers also developed a wireless protocol to support the ultrafast hopping. Their research could eventually help safeguard the billions of connected devices -- collectively known as the "internet of things" -- that are currently vulnerable to attack.

The transmitter "could help secure medical devices, such as insulin pumps and pacemakers, that could be attacked if a hacker wants to harm someone," Rabia Tugce Yazicigil, co-author of the MIT paper, said in the statement. "When people start corrupting the messages [of these devices] it starts affecting people's lives."

As more devices connect and collect data, keeping that data secure becomes increasingly important. And while consumer attention has lately focused on high-profile scandals like Facebook's Cambridge Analytica snafu and more recently, Google's ties to Chinese tech company Huawei, protecting devices connected over the internet may be a far larger problem.

Security researchers have been warning about this issue for years, but the number of threats is only getting worse, since few device makers are building security into their connected cameras, appliances, medical devices or toys. Earlier this week, Amazon pulled CloudPets, a smart toy that researchers said was riddled with security flaws, from its online store.

The MIT researchers will be presenting their paper at next week's IEEE Radio Frequency Integrated Circuits Symposium in Philadelphia.

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